Saturday, March 16, 2013

Flashback to flashbacks

Last week, I told you I was going to dip back into some older posts and reexamine them and see what's changed since they were written.

Rather than allow myself to get all hung up on where to start and how to structure it and all the weird OCD things I tend to get hung up on, I just grabbed the first one that came up when I clicked on the "2011" link.

So today, we're going to talk about this post, in which I was naked. And which, coincidentally, I'm sure, was quite a popular post on this here blog. Until I posted that adorable video of my 3-year old twins trying to break dance, and then went viral with the Patch article, it had been viewed more often than any other post

Perverts, all of you!

In case you're feeling a little tl:dr about going back to that post, "In Which I Share Too Much Information," I'll sum it up here. It's about the time I had my first and only hallucination-style, honest-to-goodness flashback to the scene of my accident, and it was brought on by a moment of sexual abandon with a college boyfriend.

Ahem. So.

I talk about why that stuff happens to people with PTSR: our brains are stuck in trauma loops, frozen at whatever point we landed in the fight-flight-freeze response during our trauma. When we're in that state, we can be triggered back into that response by anything that pushes the boundaries we've set up to protect ourselves from it.

I'd been avoiding heavily emotional experiences since the accident, because they disrupted my carefully-maintained sense of equilibrium. That night, I upset the balance, and what resulted was a very visceral, scary, sudden recollection of something I hadn't remembered before: my first moment of consciousness after I'd been hit, waking up to the voice of an EMT telling me to "Sit tight. We'll get you out."

After that happened, I pretty much locked down any future transmissions from my reptilian brain, and I never had another flashback. It was just too frightening. I cut myself off from those emotions and devoted my internal energies to keeping things under control.

That, my friends, is what PTSR is: turning parts of your own brain against each other in order to keep things under control.

After that time, there were a few-- very few-- moments where I wondered if I might get triggered again (although I didn't know about triggers or trauma loops then; I just thought of them as "moments where something reminded me too much of the accident and I freaked out"). The anniversary date of the accident was difficult for a long time. Occasionally, I'd pass by a car accident on the freeway and get a little anxious and nauseated and struggle to keep my eyes--and thoughts-- away. But nothing ever approached the level of that hallucinatory flashback again.

After a few more years, in fact, even my old triggers stopped triggering. I've stopped to help at car accidents and performed First Aid without losing my shit (you can take the girl out of the Girl Scouts, but you'll never take the Girl Scout out of the girl). These days, I even forget about the anniversary date of the crash and don't realize it until months later. 

Oh, wow, like right now. It was last month. February 11th. Even with it being much more present in my consciousness now as I write this blog, I still forgot until just this moment. I even wrote a post 2 days before, on the 9th. Huh.

Well. Anyway. Those things lost their hold, which seemed like progress, before I knew what progress actually looked like. It seemed like I was leaving them behind me. What I was actually doing was burying them ever deeper in the closet of my subconscious. Which is really the opposite of leaving something behind you and escaping its clutches for good. 

It's more like this:

And as anyone who has ever seen a cartoon knows, eventually, that door is going to burst open and all that stuff is going to come tumbling down.

So where am I now, with all of this?

Well, I still forget the anniversary date, which seems rather reasonable and healthy, actually. But I have noticed in the last couple of months that I am a LOT closer to a "freak out" than I've been in years. I'm hyper-aware of other cars when I'm driving; I'm having panic attacks over emotional highs and lows; I'm feeling a lot more fear than I've allowed myself to feel in years.

Things are starting to remind me uncomfortably strongly of the accident again, and my body is reacting. The other night, we were watching a TV show where a character had been in a car accident and he woke up to a voice coming from off-camera, saying, "Don't worry, just hang on, we'll get you out."

My palms are sweating just typing that out. It was a jolt, to say the least.

So, yeah. Stuff is a LOT closer to the surface now, which means I'm having frequent, unpleasant reminders that I'm still braced against that closet door to keep the teetering tower of junk inside from bursting out all over the place. The tower is smaller now, I'd like to think, but the closet is still too full.

How ironic that THIS is now what feels like progress. Not the insulated hum of equilibrium, but the sturm und drang and constant (to me, at least) discomfort of, you know, being a more emotional person.

Well, irony might not be the right word. It feels like progress because it is progress. There is no longer any comfort to be found in the lack of difficult feelings.

Despite all of this scary-sounding stuff, the biggest difference of all is my awareness of exactly what is happening in my brain when these moments occur. 

And that difference is everything. 

Because now, when I catch myself going into a trauma loop, I no longer feel victimized by it. It doesn't have the power over me that it once had, because I know what it is now, and how and why it's happening, and even if I can't stop it-- and I shouldn't, really, not if I want to work through these feelings instead of around or in spite of them-- I can keep a balanced perspective about it.

As Dr. Oz would say, I get the chance to let my Wise Adult come in and help me through it, and remind my lizard brain that Yes, that was scary, and Yes, you did the right thing at the time, and Yes, it's really over now, and Yes, you survived. You made it. You lived, you lived, you lived.

So now I am at once closer to the fears and further from them, as I can feel them and not be controlled by them, instead of not feeling and being controlled, which is how I've lived the last 20 years.

That feels true. I think I can say that. I can feel fear and not be controlled by it. Or not completely, anyway. And that's something. That's a very big Something, in fact.

It seems like once that particular penny drops, the rest is just a matter of "acting as if," and slowly but surely figuring out more "as if's" to act, and working through the scary feelings instead of around them, and letting the triggers fade because they don't actually trigger you anymore...

...and not because you've wrapped them in old newspaper and bubble wrap and  opened the closet door a tiny crack and shoved them inside and slammed the door again before you are buried under a pile of old skis and tennis rackets and broken lamps and Christmas decorations and moth-eaten, unfashionable coats you haven't worn in 12 years. 

You know. The easy stuff. Once you get here, all that's left is the easy stuff.

Piece of cake, she says. 

As if.

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